Democratic Vistas: startled by sin

October 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

1948 US stamp honoring Walt Whitman

Image via Wikipedia

Something startles me when I thought I was safest. This opening line from Whitman’s “This Compost” (originally published in the 1856 edition) comes to mind when I try to make sense of “Democratic Vistas.” Whitman seems startled by where he finds himself in post-Civil War, reconstruction America. (Remember Emerson’s opening line in his great essay “Experience”: Where do we find ourselves?) It is and isn’t the America and the democracy he had been envisioning in his writing since 1855. It is strange and familiar. And I feel startled by the essay: interested in where it wants to go, familiar with some of its echoes of the Whitman of Leaves of Grass, and startled by its inability to get there. You thought Emerson’s essays were strange? Folsom and Price in chapter 6 of Re-Scripting Walt Whitman provide helpful social and historical context for Whitman’s essay and for the problem of reconstruction in his writing. I copy below two relevant paragraphs. Should you be interested in doing more with this strange but important text in Whitman, or with Whitman and race and reconstruction, I invite you to read further in the chapter.

If “Passage to India” and “After All Not to Create Only” were celebratory (perhaps at times naively so), Democratic Vistas mounted sustained criticism of Reconstruction-era failures. Based in part on essays that had appeared in the New York journal the Galaxy in 1867 and 1868, Democratic Vistas responds most immediately to a racist diatribe by the Scottish essayist and historian Thomas Carlyle, “Shooting Niagara: And After?” Carlyle’s “great man” view of history left him impatient with democracy and opposed to efforts to expand the franchise in either the US or Britain. For him, the folly of giving the vote to blacks was akin to going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. Whitman grants Carlyle some general points, acknowledging, for example, the “appalling dangers of universal suffrage in the U.S.” because of the “people’s crudeness, vices, caprices.” In fact, Whitman gazes piercingly at a society “canker’d, crude, superstitious and rotten,” in which the “depravity of our business classes . . . is not less than has been supposed, but infinitely greater.” Yet he contrasts these current problems with “democracy’s convictions [and] aspirations” and ultimately provides a ringing endorsement of democracy as the safest and only legitimate course for the US. His thought on the intertwined fates of the US and democracy—his “convertible terms”—is future-oriented. He preceded the philosopher and educator John Dewey in arguing that the United States was not yet made and thus could not be categorically assessed, just as the history of democracy was yet to be written because “that history has yet to be enacted.” “We have frequently printed the word Democracy,” Whitman wrote in Democratic Vistas; “Yet I cannot too often repeat that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawaken’d” (PW, 2:390). Democracy always remained for Whitman an ideal goal, “resid[ing] altogether in the future” (PW, 2:390), and never a realized practice. The history of America, so he hoped, would eventually define the word for the first time, because in his own day, he believed, democracy was only “in its embryo condition” (PW, 2:392). Crucial to his program for strengthening democracy are what he calls “personalism” (a form of individualism in which every person develops uniquely but always remains aware of his or her interconnectedness with the larger social body) and the nurturance of an appropriate “New World literature” that would demand more aggressive reading habits, literature that would awaken the populace and make them argue with the author instead of lull them to sleep and have them passively accept whatever the author professed.

For all of the idealism of Democratic Vistas, however, the work clearly arose out of Whitman’s struggle with the radical politics of the Reconstruction era, and it raises troubling and perhaps unanswerable questions about his attitudes toward the Radical Republican agenda of quickly securing civil rights and voting rights for freed (male) slaves. If Whitman’s faith in the future of American democracy was clear, his vision of the place of African Americans in that future was blurred. As he was writing Democratic Vistas, the shape of the new nation was uncertain, as malleable as the intense debates and shifting votes of a Congress that was revising the very Constitution and threatening to impeach the president, Andrew Johnson. Whitman, during this time, continued to spend evenings visiting the Civil War hospitals that remained opened, still filled with wounded soldiers two years after the war had ended, but he also devoted some of his time to trips to the Capitol to watch the extraordinary night sessions with their impassioned debates on Reconstruction legislation, including the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. For the Radical Republicans who controlled Congress, the war increasingly seemed to have been fought not just to emancipate the slaves (the Thirteenth Amendment had taken care of that) but to enfranchise them and guarantee them equal rights under the Constitution (this was the arena of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and the amazing debates dealt with the very tricky issue of trying to unwrite the Constitutional provision that slaves counted as only three-fifths of a person, and trying to inscribe just what the black person’s newly granted full humanity meant). Whitman, like many Americans, was unsure about where he stood on these momentous issues.

Whitman refers early in the essay to the People–the promise of America and democracy, but also, always, the problem. The people, we learn, are in need of some learning. But the People are ungrammatical, untidy, and their sins gaunt and ill-bred. (968)  But who are the people? Who are to be included? How do the people learn or realize this democracy that is not yet fulfilled?

Where does Whitman leave us? He argues that Democracy is still unwritten, and that it will be written, or brought to life, by the Poet or Literatus. So, in the early 1870s, we seem to be right back where we started: with Emerson’s call for an American scholar (in 1837) and Poet (in the 1840s). Whitman defines the need for this literature, without defining the type or shape of it. Does he know what it looks like? Is it Whitman’s own literature? Whitman’s notion of gymnastic reading, described toward the end of Democratic Vistas (not included in the excerpt in Norton), suggests why he is hesitant to define things:

Prospecting thus the coming unsped days, and that new order in them — marking the endless train of exercise, development, unwind, in nation as in man, which life is for — we see, fore-indicated, amid these prospects and hopes, new law-forces of spoken and written language — not merely the pedagogue-forms, correct, regular, familiar with precedents, made for matters of outside propriety, fine words, thoughts definitely told out — but a language fann’d by the breath of Nature, which leaps overhead, cares mostly for impetus and effects, and for what it plants and invigorates to grow — tallies life and character, and seldomer tells a thing than suggests or necessitates it. In fact, a new theory of literary composition for imaginative works of the very first class, and especially for highest poems, is the sole course open to these States. Books are to be call’d for, and supplied, on the assumption that the process of reading is not a half sleep, but, in highest sense, an exercise, a gymnast’s struggle; that the reader is to do something for himself, must be on the alert, must himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay — the text furnishing the hints, the clue, the start or frame-work. Not the book needs so much to be the complete thing, but the reader of the book does. That were to make a nation of supple and athletic minds, well-train’d, intuitive, used to depend on themselves, and not on a few coteries of writers.

Re-Scripting Walt Whitman

October 19, 2011 § 8 Comments

Some excerpts from Folsom and Price, Re-Scripting Walt Whitman; once you identify the version of Whitman’s LG you want to focus around for your project, I recommend you take a look at the full chapter that corresponds to the period.

  • Introduction (on the metonymic relations between Whitman’s book and his writer’s and printer’s life)
    • [on Whitman’s poetics of revision] This continual deferral of the ideal was Whitman’s style; he set in process a history and a literature that would struggle toward democracy, even if they would never fully attain it. His poetry was written to initiate response, revision, process, and his own compositional techniques emphasized his refusal to reach conclusion. Whitman was the ultimate reviser, continually reopening his poems and books to endless shuffling, retitling, editing, and reconceptualizing. Leaves of Grass was Whitman’s title for a process more than a product: every change in his life and in his nation made him reopen his book to revision.
    • Our book pursues the metonymic relation that Whitman famously employed between himself and his work (“this is no book, / Who touches this touches a man” [LG, 505]). We weave together an account of Whitman’s life and an account of his works, especially his evolving masterpiece Leaves of Grass. In a sense, we follow Justin Kaplan’s notion that “the irreducible reality of literary lives” is not the “naked self” but the “sum of a writer’s public verbal acts and ecstasies with language” (Kaplan 1979, 55). Once we begin to think about Whitman through the lens provided by digital resources, new questions become accessible and new problems emerge. Certainly some of the inadequacy of older models of criticism becomes clear. Many of us still talk about “Song of Myself” as if it were a single, stable entity. Yet this poem took various forms and had various titles in the six different editions of Leaves of Grass from 1855 to 1881, and it had a complex pre-history in manuscripts and early notebooks. Our discussion highlights Whitman’s evolving work—including the material production of the books themselves—in the context of his life. Many aspects of books that Whitman typically controlled—including typeface, margins, ornamentation, and the like—communicate in subtle but powerful ways to readers, and in ways that have been for the most part ignored
  • Chapter 1: (on Whitman’s informal schooling)
    • By the age of 11, Whitman was done with his formal education (by this time he had far more schooling than either of his parents had received), and he began his life as a laborer, working first as an office boy for some prominent Brooklyn lawyers, who gave him a subscription to a circulating library, where his self-education began. Always an autodidact, Whitman absorbed an eclectic but wide-ranging education through his visits to museums, his nonstop reading, and his penchant for engaging everyone he met in conversation and debate. While most other major writers of his time enjoyed highly structured, classical educations at private institutions, Whitman forged his own rough and informal curriculum of literature, theater, history, geography, music, and archeology out of the developing public resources of America’s fastest-growing city.
  • Chapter 2: (on the mysterious manuscript origins of the 1855 Leaves of Grass–and its proto-word processing)
    • Virtually every line of this early version of a section of “Song of Myself,” then, gets used somewhere in the poem or elsewhere in Leaves. But the section itself is entirely dismantled and scattered; it ceases to exist as a unit. We recall Whitman’s comment that his early drafts of Leaves were “recast, outcast, taken apart, put together.” It’s as if he mined early drafts for lines much like some sort of proto-word-processing system, lifting and moving lines and juxtaposing them with others, dissolving entire sections into other newly forming sections. This evidence strongly suggests that for Whitman the line was the basic unit of his poetry, since he seems always to move entire lines. This habit of composition may well have derived from Whitman’s experience as a typesetter, where lines of text were separate, moveable units assembled into galleys. For Whitman, then, passages emerge from the juxtaposition and accretion of lines, and those lines can be recast and put together in different combinations to form different but equally coherent larger units.
  • Chapter 3 (on “The Sleepers” and Whitman’s intimate/democratic you)
    • Sleep for Whitman, then, is a democratic condition. Throughout the first edition of Leaves, he seeks those experiences that cross the boundaries of class, gender, and race: all humans live in bodies and apprehend the world through the five senses and breathe the same air. His emphasis on the body and on sensuality grows out of his belief that such an appeal to physical experience breaks down hierarchies and discriminations among his readers. To represent those experiences that we all share is to create a democratic poetry, a poetry accessible to everyone, a poetry that invites all readers to assume the role of Whitman’s “you.” Sleep is another of those democratic experiences. Not only do we all sleep, we all know and have felt the “breakdown” of “sleep-chasings,” the way that falling asleep gives us the experience of losing control, the ways that dreams allow us to undergo shape-shifting, to wander worlds beyond our own waking experiences. Sleep, Whitman indicates in this poem, allows us finally to move into deeper and deeper levels of common psychic territory, where we all descend at night to plumb the depths of human emotion.
  • Chapter 4
    • Intensification of affectional bonds became a foundation for Whitman’s poetry and for his vision of a perfected democracy, and so sexual expressions of affection had to be broken loose from American Puritanical notions that sex was only for procreation: sexual desire, Whitman realized, was a powerful force for love across all kinds of boundaries and had to be more openly expressed in America’s literature than it had been before.
  • Chapter 5 (on the Civil War writing of Whitman)
    • With the nation now locked in an extended war, all of Whitman’s deepest concerns and beliefs were under attack. Leaves of Grass had been built on a faith in union, wholeness, the ability of a self and a nation to contain contradictions and absorb diversity; now the United States had come apart, and Whitman’s very project was in danger of becoming an anachronism as the Southern states sought to divide the country in two. Leaves had been built, too, on a belief in the power of affection to overcome division and competition; his “Calamus” vision, as we have seen, was of a “continent indissoluble” with “inseparable cities” all joined by “the life-long love of comrades” (LG, 117). But now the young men of America were killing each other in bloody battles; fathers were killing sons, sons fathers, brothers brothers. Whitman’s prospects for his “new Bible” that would bind a nation, build an affectionate democracy, and guide a citizenry to celebrate its unified diversity were shattered in the fratricidal conflict that engulfed America.
  • Chapter 6 (on Reconstruction Era writing, including Democratic Vistas)
    • Democracy always remained for Whitman an ideal goal, “resid[ing] altogether in the future” (PW, 2:390), and never a realized practice. The history of America, so he hoped, would eventually define the word for the first time, because in his own day, he believed, democracy was only “in its embryo condition” (PW, 2:392). Crucial to his program for strengthening democracy are what he calls “personalism” (a form of individualism in which every person develops uniquely but always remains aware of his or her interconnectedness with the larger social body) and the nurturance of an appropriate “New World literature” that would demand more aggressive reading habits, literature that would awaken the populace and make them argue with the author instead of lull them to sleep and have them passively accept whatever the author professed.
  • chapter 7 (Whitman into the 1880s)
    • poems objected to in 1881 edition (obscenity laws): The offending passages appeared in “Song of Myself,” “From Pent-up Aching Rivers,” “A Woman Waits for Me,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “Spontaneous Me,” “The Dalliance of the Eagles,” “Native Moments,” “By Blue Ontario’s Shore,” “To a Common Prostitute,” “Unfolded Out of the Folds,” “The Sleepers,” and “Faces.” For most poems, only particular passages or words were at issue, but the district attorney insisted that “A Woman Waits for Me” and “To a Common Prostitute” had to be removed entirely. Intriguingly, the “Calamus” section and other poems treating male-male love raised no concern, perhaps because the male-male poems infrequently venture beyond handholding and hugging while the male-female poems are frank about copulation.
  • Appendix (editing Whitman, the digital archive)
    • Unlike the Collected Writings, the Walt Whitman Archive has not chosen to privilege one particular edition of Leaves of Grass. Instead, the editors of the Whitman Archive value and seek to present all versions, including all six distinct American editions, the British editions that Whitman contributed to in his lifetime, corrected page proofs, and the famous “Blue Book”—Whitman’s copy of the 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass with handwritten corrections and with material tipped in. Whitman authorized every published edition of Leaves of Grass. Any one of his editions could be vital for a researcher, depending on the questions to be pursued. A student concerned with the poet’s reaction to the prospect of black suffrage, for example, might well find the often-neglected 1867 Leaves to be crucial. Whitman called for future reprintings based on the “deathbed” edition, saying that it should supersede all the previous editions. To follow his advice would be problematic in numerous ways, especially since it would occlude some of his finest achievements, and it would trust that his judgment of his own work was sharpest in the final year of his life as his health was failing. In the last analysis, we are not editing Whitman for Whitman but for ourselves and for all those interested in him in our historical moment.
    • shifting focus from singularity of authorship (I hear echoes with RWE on Shakespeare and the social labour behind his work):
      • as a range of theorists and textual scholars have variously demonstrated, the idea of an individual, autonomous author is open to significant challenge, and the term author, if we are to use it now, might be best understood as a convenient shorthand marker for the many agents—a writer or writers, editors, typesetters, proofreaders, and others—who typically contribute to the production of a text. Whitman himself recognized that texts are rarely the product of a single individual. After the publication of the 1881-2 Leaves of Grass, he commented on the importance of his proof-reader’s work: All this is not only to show my obligation to Henry Clark, but in some sort to all proof-readers everywhere, as sort of a tribute to a class of men, seldom mentioned, but to whom all the hundreds of writers, and all the millions of readers, are unspeakably indebted. More than one literary reputation, if not made is certainly saved by no less a person than a good proof-reader. The public that sees these neat and con-secutive, fair-printed books on the centre-tables, little knows the mass of chaos, bad spelling and grammar, frightful (corrected) excesses or balks, and frequent masses of illegibility and tautology of which they have been extricated. (DBN, 1:256) No one would claim that Henry Clark was the equal of Whitman in the making of Leaves of Grass, but he contributed to the social production of his text.
    • An electronic edition, unlike a print edition, is typically issued as work in progress rather than as a finished product. As it is made public, its readers become active agents in its continuing creation—pointing out omissions, suggesting improvements, challenging transcriptions. TheArchive is revised and expanded virtually every day, and newly discovered documents can be seamlessly folded into the existing structures so that the edition is always up to date. It is the perfect medium for an author who was always revising and reordering and rethinking his work.

Continuous Creation

December 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

The conclusion of Folsom and Price’s Re-Scripting Walt Whitman turns from historical problems of editing Whitman’s work to the digital editing project underway for the past decade at the Whitman digital archive. I think this is a brilliant conclusion to the book. The problem in making sense of Whitman’s work is ongoing, though not in the typical senses of an editorial, scholarly project;  Whitman’s work was coneceived that way: as ongoing creation.

An electronic edition, unlike a print edition, is typically issued as work in progress rather than as a finished product. As it is made public, its readers become active agents in its continuing creation—pointing out omissions, suggesting improvements, challenging transcriptions. The Archive is revised and expanded virtually every day, and newly discovered documents can be seamlessly folded into the existing structures so that the edition is always up to date. It is the perfect medium for an author who was always revising and reordering and rethinking his work. As editors, we are confident that the Archive will keep the re-scripting of Whitman active for generations hence.

Folsom and Price get into some of the technological specifics of what this means in terms of digital scholarship (tagging, XML, etc). But here is the key point: the digital is not just a better medium for representing Whitman’s massive metonymic project (the book that reflects the man and his times by being ‘part of the actual distraction’ of those times; like a photograph); it is representative of the process through its own processing.

I think this takes us all the way back to Emerson, to where we began: to American Scholar, to the search for a book that would be more than a book, and a reader that would uncover through reading the luminous allusion of the world. And it takes us forward to where we are now: to Democratic Vistas and to Whitman’s halting yet eqaully visionary view of a future for American literature, culture, democracy. In that regard, another point made by Folsom and Price in the appendix I think illuminates something of Whitman’s vision for the democratic future (still unwritten). They note that the print edition of the Collected Works privileges ‘solitary authorsthip” over social production of text, over ‘jointly produced intellectual work.’ We read Whitman and Emerson as solitary authors; and yet I would argue that both are deeply interested (and in Whitman’s case, concerned) with the joint production and process of intellectual work.

And for that reason, I agree with Folsom and Price’s assertion, and would use it as an entry point, epigraphically speaking, for the seminar paper in this course you are about to embark on: In the last analysis, we are not editing Whitman for Whitman but for ourselves and for all those interested in him in our historical moment.

In a manner of speaking, it seems to me that such is what Whitman is writing against, and writing for, in “Democratic Vistas”: American readers who will take an interest in him, but not for him, for themselves. In this sense, I give particular attention to the paragraph toward the end where Whitman returns to his ‘gymnastic’ metaphor and focuses his ‘new theory of composition’ not on authors but on ‘the process of reading,’ on what readers will do with those authors and their necessarily incomplete books. It is noticeable to me that Whitman prefaces this by indicating that his ‘prospects’ for this future of new forms of reading and writing are “not merely the pedagogue-forms, correct, regular, familiar with precedents, made for matters of outside propriety, fine words, thoughts definitely told out–but a language fann’d by the breath of Nature…” Whitman is thinking of a new school. Or more to the point, thinking of a literature and a poetry that will provide a school for American democracy–and that will not be the vision of school already in place.

This interest in ‘school,’ at least to my way of reading, associates Whitman with Emerson’s school, with Emerson’s interests from “American Scholar” forward. This also suggests–to use the terminology I have been focusing on–that Whitman’s ‘gymnastic’ imagery is more metonymy than metaphor: he wants readers who actively read, reminding us that the gymnasium is already a school. And it suggests something that is there in Whitman from the beginning. Whitman thinks of his poetry as a ‘perfect school.’ We learn this from one of the poetry manuscripts available at the Whitman archive.

[Poem—a perfect school]
a TG 2 get— P[deletion, illegible] description of [deletion, illegible] Chr

Poem—a perfect school,
gymnastic, moral, mental and
sentimental,—in which
magnificent men are formed
—old persons come just as
much as youth—gymnastics,
physiology, music, swimming bath
—conversation,—declamation—
—large saloons adorned with
pictures and sculpture—great ideas
not taught in sermons but imbibed
as health is imbibed—
—love—love of woman—all manly exercises
—riding, rowing—the greatest persons
come—the president comes and
the governors come—political economy
—the American idea in all its
amplitude and comprehensiveness—
—grounds, gardens, flowers, grains—
cabinets—old history taught—
1833
1776
67
Date
The lines beginning “The three or four poets are well” were probably drafted in 1853 or 1854, just before the first publication of Leaves of Grass (1855). “Poem—a perfect school” was probably written in the 1850s also.
Editorial note
“The three or four poets are well” are draft lines of the third poem, entitled “Leaves of Grass,” in Leaves of Grass (1855). It became “Burial Poem” in 1856, “Burial” in 1860 and 1867, and took its final title, “To Think of Time,” in 1871. The poem outlined in “Poem—a perfect school” was apparently never written.

This sort of reading–reading back into manuscripts, reading across Whitman’s various revisions and publications–is something the Archive makes more accessible. Folsom and Price describe the digital as a ‘perfect medium’ for Whitman’s process. I might only add, or bring out, this implication. That Whitman’s own conception of the ‘process of reading’ (from Democratic Vistas) suggests to me that such process reading (and re-reading), messy though it may be, messy as I would say, in metonymy, is part of the schooling that Whitman has in mind.

Whitman’s Metonymy Leads to ‘You’

October 31, 2009 § 1 Comment

In chapter 2 of Re-scripting Walt Whitman, Ed Folsom and Ken Price offer this insight regarding the emergence of Whitman’s poetics and its vision of capacity–a place where every atom belongs as good to the poet (the me) as to his reader (his ‘you’):

Whitman’s goal was the multitudinous self, a self capacious enough to identify with the vast variety of human types that American democracy was producing: he loved America’s “loose drift of character, the inkling through random types” (LG, 186), and Whitman’s pun on “ink” and “type” here would become his great metonymic invention—to turn human types into printed type, to ink character on a page, to turn a book into a man. “Camerado, this is no book,” he writes, “Who touches this touches a man” (LG, 505), and throughout Leaves, we can feel an identity straining to make human contact through the print and paper: “I pass so poorly with paper and types . . . . I must pass with the contact of bodies and souls” (LG 1855, 57).

As I have mentioned, I first learned and thought about metonymy from Whitman (with help from Ed Folsom). And so, I would argue that a key insight is offered here. With metonymy in mind, and always in hand, Whitman invents his poetry: that is to say, metonymy (the figure of relation and connection, of partialities that piece together a whole–like atoms in flux) is not just one of many poetic or rhetorical figures in the lines of poetry, it becomes the lines of poetry. Whitman writes from metonymy’s premise; and at times, Whitman thinks about its very presence, or sometimes absence, as the purpose of his poetry.

In this regard, there are any number of catalogs, lists of people, places, and occupations, all of which, as lines, as beautiful and equal fragments of a larger picture, are continuous metonyms. They stop somewhere waiting for us, until we get to the next one. But one passage in particular stands out to me; from “Song of Myself” (1855 version):

The well-taken photographs . . . . but your wife or friend close and solid in your
arms?

The fleet of ships of the line and all the modern improvements . . . . but the craft
and pluck of the admiral?
The dishes and fare and furniture . . . . but the host and hostess, and the look out of
their eyes?
The sky up there . . . . yet here or next door or across the way?
The saints and sages in history . . . . but you yourself?

Sermons and creeds and theology . . . . but the human brain, and what is called
reason, and what is called love, and what is called life?


What first seems to be another listing of metonymic identities of great interest to the poet–more parts, more pieces–in fact turns to a focus on what I think of as the absence of the recognition of metonymy. Whitman reminds us, and re-focuses our attention on the fact, that we forget about our relations to things, and so cut ourselves off from those things. It is a version, perhaps, of Emerson’s concern that man is metamorphosed into a thing: we become the photograph, and forget the people it represents. But as I would argue of Emerson’s concern, the problem as I see it–and I think as Whtiman sees it–is not too much metonymy, but too little. We forget that the photograph is not a metaphor, not a fixed and separable symbol only, but something that stands in relation to what it represents and (echoes of that here) how it is made and taken. Whitman reminds us that there is process hidden in all our products.

He plays upon this metonymic regonition rather metonymically in places–for example, in the opening of what becomes “Song of Occupations”–in the condensing and collapsing of types and other words that allow him to conjoin the body of text with the body of author and reader.

COME closer to me,

Push close my lovers and take the best I possess,
Yield closer and closer and give me the best you possess.
This is unfinished business with me . . . . how is it with you?
I was chilled with the cold types and cylinder and wet paper between us.

I pass so poorly with paper and types . . . . I must pass with the contact of bodies
and souls.



In a critical study of Whitman’s language and style, the critic C. Carroll Hollis (Language and Style in Leaves of Grass) refers to this kind of punning as ‘the greatest metonymic trick in poetic history.’ I would add that, as we see here, this metonymy that desires contact leads to Whitman’s ‘you.’ And thus ‘you’ is, you are, part of Whitman’s metonymy. You are no reader, reader; who touches this also helps the writer with his unfinished business. You (you see) means more than you suppose.

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